Do you want to start a wedding photography business? If YES, here is a complete guide to starting a wedding photography business with NO money and no experience plus a sample wedding photography business plan template. The wedding industry is a large industry in terms of dollars, but tracking where that money is spent is more difficult for several reasons. There is a low barrier for entry to get started in the wedding photography business.
Anyone with a DSLR, website, and a stack of business cards can call themselves a photographer and begin booking clients. That’s why you hear the horror stories of brides and grooms paying some person $800 and getting terrible photos of their special day. That doesn’t always happen, but it does far too often.
Details can make or break a wedding photography business. This is important to realize up front. If you don’t pay attention to those details you can easily falter. As a photographer you’ll need to pay attention to the details of the wedding.
Equally important you’ll need to focus on the details of the business. These details include the wording on your wedding contract, the promises you make to your clients, your ability to keep track of the different weddings you might have at any given time.
The wedding photography market in the united states, i.e. the number of wedding photographers in the United States, is a difficult number to compute. First of all, the term ‘wedding photographer’ is such a loose term that defines seasoned professionals, as well as your typical uncle with a digital camera. Secondly, as with many independent contractors, not every photographer follows all of the rules of a legitimate business.
For example, any statistics based on United States tax information might understate the true number in an industry with so much unreported revenue. Furthermore, many studios do not register their businesses; and others do not join professional organizations, making these measures unreliable as well. With so many ‘under the radar’ and part-time wedding photographers, the actual number is quite difficult to estimate.
So you are a photographer and not just any type of photographer you are a wedding photographer. You’ve chosen a profession that will require many different skill sets, not the least of which is your ability to take a great picture. But there is a lot more to running a successful business than just having a service to offer.
Many people have had a great idea or a special talent but have not been able to capitalize on that talent. This article is intended to help you achieve your dream of working on your own, providing a unique service to deserving clients, and doing it all successfully.
23 Steps to Starting a Wedding Photography Business
Table of Content
- 2. Conduct Market Research and Feasibility Studies
- 3. Decide Which Niche to Concentrate On
- 4. Know Your Major Competitors in the Industry
- 5. Decide Whether to Buy a Franchise or Start from Scratch
- 9. Discuss with an Agent to Know the Best Insurance Policies for You
- 10. Protect your Intellectual Property With Trademark, Copyrights, Patents
- 11. Get the Necessary Professional Certification
- 12. Get the Necessary Legal Documents You Need to Operate
- 13. Write a Business Plan
- 14. Prepare a Detailed Cost Analysis
- 15. Raise the Needed Startup Capital
- 16. Choose a Suitable Location for your Business
- 17. Hire Employees for your Technical and Manpower Needs
- 18. Write a Marketing Plan Packed with ideas & Strategies
- 19. Develop Iron-clad Competitive Strategies to Help You Win
- 20. Brainstorm Possible Ways to Retain Clients & Customers
- 21. Develop Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness and Create a Corporate Identity
1. Understand the Industry
In 2013, more than 2.1 million weddings were celebrated in the United States. Wedding photography and videography are a $3.77 billion business. According to The Wedding Report (TWR), the average amount spent on weddings hit a peak of $28,732 in 2007 and dropped 24 percent in 2008 to $21,814.
Interesting Statistics About the Industry
In 2008, 50 percent of brides spent less than $14,352 for their entire wedding. In 2009, the average amount spent dropped another 10.2 percent to $19,581. In the first half of 2010, the average cost of a wedding increased 21.9 percent — from $19,581 to $23,867. However, spending is not expected to return to pre-recession levels before 2013.
Based on various market data, middle market rates for photographing a wedding range from $1,300 to $3,500. The deliverables included for these prices vary widely. The average bride currently spends $1,754 for wedding photography.
Looking at the average wedding photography rate and assuming the photographer is able to shoot 40 weddings per year, a solo photographer can expect to gross $70,160 annually. According to the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) benchmark guidelines for home businesses, about two-thirds of gross revenues will be eaten up in General Expenses and Cost of Sales.
At 33 percent, the net annual photographer’s compensation plus profit from doing 40 weddings would be a little over $23,000 before taxes. For wedding photography to be profitable, the photographer must be able to command fees that are significantly higher than the current average.
2. Conduct Market Research and Feasibility Studies
- Demographics and Psychographics
The demographic and psychographic component of those who need the services of a wedding photography;
- Wedding Magazines
- Bride and Grooms
- Wedding Brochures
- Wedding Bloggers
- Wedding Officials
3. Decide Which Niche to Concentrate On
- Classic and Traditional
- Illustrative Photography
- High fashion
- Natural Lights
The Level of Competition in the Industry
With so many wedding photographers entering the market every day, it’s important to have a diverse marketing strategy to compete successfully. Photographers will face strong competition for most jobs. Because of reduced barriers to entry, there will be many qualified candidates for relatively few positions.
In addition, salaried jobs may be more difficult to obtain as companies increasingly contract with freelancers rather than hire their own photographers. Job prospects will be best for candidates who are multitalented and possess related skills, such as editing pictures and capturing digital video.
4. Know Your Major Competitors in the Industry
- Jasmine Star
- Aiza Cruz-Wing
- LuRey photography
- Matt & Kristen Roberts
- Matt Miller
- Maurico Arias
- Melissa Jill
- Michael Ash Smith
- Michelle Gardella
- Michelle Randolph Turner
- Mike Colon
- Morgan Lynn Razi
- Nessa K
- Ning Wong
- Parker J Pfister
- Pat Furey
- Raven Mathis
- Rhinehart Photography
- Right Start Photography
- Rob Greer
- Roberto Valenzuela
- Ryan Brenizer
- Ryan Joseph
- Sam Hurd
Photography business is one of the businesses that can unarguably survive in any part of the world as long as the business is well positioned. The photography industry can boast of creating jobs directly or indirectly for countless numbers of people all over the globe. One good thing about the photography industry is that it has various areas of specialization ranging from wedding or portrait photography to wildlife photography or travel photography, amongst many others.
Over and above, starting a photography business is what you have chosen to do because having done your due diligence and research, you must have realized that it is a business that is highly profitable if well planned and managed.
Without a shadow of doubt, there is a high rate of competition in the industry, but you can create a unique Business model that will help establish you and gain market acceptance and by so doing, work your way to the top of the ladder in the location where your photography business is to be located.
5. Decide Whether to Buy a Franchise or Start from Scratch
Franchises are a booming business. As such, they’re appealing to entrepreneurs who want to operate a storefront without investing too much in the traditional costs of starting a business. These traditional costs may include research, development and advertising, just to name a few.
But even with saving on traditional costs, starting a franchise is still a big investment. Before investing in a franchise of own, carefully consider the pros and cons of franchise ownership. As a wedding photographer, it is advisable you start from scratch if you want to have control over certain aspect of your business and also control your profit wholly.
6. Know the Possible Threats and Challenges You Will Face
It’s said that when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. That is true to some degree, but taking pictures is actually a pretty small percentage of what makes my business tick. It’s the business end of things that feels like work.
Here are seven of the little daily struggles that come with being a professional wedding photographer:
- Gear is expensive.
- It’s a high pressure job.
- Post processing takes a lot of time.
- It can be confusing to figure out taxes and the business end of things.
- You won’t always be perfect.
- Not everything you shoot will be happy.
- Your work and vision is no longer just “yours
7. Choose the Most Suitable Legal Entity (LLC, C Corp, S Corp)
choosing a legal entity for a business is a huge determinant of the size the business will grow into, so choosing the right entity is very straightforward especially if you decided to grow the business big in the long term. While many business owners remain as a sole proprietor, there are others who form a corporation or a Limited Liability Company (LLC).
There are a number of tax and legal protections that you are afforded when you do so. Therefore, check with a tax or legal professional on the benefits of the different types of business entities and whether you should consider having your business become such an entity.
8. Choose a Catchy Business Name
- Kiss the Bride Wedding Photography
- “I Do” Photography
- In the Moment Photography
- Special Moments Studio
- Love struck Photography
- Bright Diamond Studios
- “With Love” Photography
- Celebration Photography Studio
- Events Studios
- Dream Photography
- Picture Perfect
- Special Day Photo
- Two to One Moments
9. Discuss with an Agent to Know the Best Insurance Policies for You
There are two parts to this: first, camera insurance is a very good idea, as dropping, damaging or having equipment stolen can prove expensive – especially if it’s just before your shoot; and second, if you’re working as a photographer you should have some sort of public liability insurance. Many people presume their camera will be covered on home insurance but if you use it to earn money, the chances are it isn’t
10. Protect your Intellectual Property With Trademark, Copyrights, Patents
Photography tends to be protected by the law through copyright and moral rights. Photography tends to be restricted by the law through miscellaneous criminal offenses. Publishing certain photographs can be restricted by privacy law. Photography of certain subject matter can be generally restricted in the interests of public morality and the protection of children.
Your photographs are the most important intellectual property you own as a photographer. You own what you capture with your camera, just as an artist owns what he or she paints, an author owns what he or she writes, and a musician owns what he or she composes.
Very simply, if your work is your own, then you own it as what is called an original work of authorship, whether it has been published or not. If someone else uses it with your permission, you still own it unless you specifically state in writing that you are assigning ownership to that person (typically for some form of compensation, which is also stated). Even if you assign someone exclusive use of an image, you still own the copyright unless otherwise articulated in writing
11. Get the Necessary Professional Certification
There are numerous certifications available for photographers, some of which are offered by the Professional Photographers Association. Examples of certifications include: Certified Professional Photographer, Certified Forensic Photographer and Registered Biological Photographer. As a wedding photographer, it is only the Certified Professional Photographers examination that is applicable to you. You don’t necessarily need a certification to run this business.
12. Get the Necessary Legal Documents You Need to Operate
Register your business with the government. Laws vary by state. Talk to your local Department of Commerce and Department of Licensing to receive the forms that you need to establish your business and to learn if you need a license to do bookkeeping. You can notify the federal government of your business by applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). You can also create a Business Name for yourself and file a “Doing Business As” or “DBA” notice.
These are some of the basic legal document that you are expected to have in place if you want to start a cleaning business in the United States of America;
- Certificate of Incorporation
- Business License
- Business Plan
- Non – disclosure Agreement
- Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
- Employment Agreement (offer letters)
- Operating Agreement
- Company By laws
- Operating Agreement for LLCs
- Insurance Policy
13. Write a Business Plan
You might wonder why you need to have a business plan. You already know what kind of services you could offer. All you need is to find an intending couple as a client to start your wedding photography business. If you need to do some marketing, you might say “I will think about it along the way”.
However, one of the most important management functions is planning. Without planning, you don’t know which way your business is going and you cannot measure your progress. A lot of small businesses fail because of poor planning. Here is a list of items in your business plan to consider:
- Summary of Business Plan
- Management and Operating Plan
- Competitive Analysis
- Market Analysis and Marketing Plan
- Financial Plan
- Summary of Business Plan
In summary, you should include the legal structure of the business, internal and external management and your analysis of competitors and the market. Also, you need to summarize the financial situation of your practice. As a professional wedding photographer, you are a part of mans of making your clients day memorable as well as keeping that memory alive; however, as a business owner, you need to have external management as mentioned above.
As you already know, you have to compete with other professional photographers and even videographers. A general photographer can offer various services such as the one you are intending to start. Some professional videographers also offer wedding photography services as well as other services; therefore, you need to investigate their services. Also, you need to determine what kind of services you can offer by doing some research.
You need to have a target market. Unless you have in-depth knowledge of various industries, you should not accept everyone as a client. If you are familiar with a special niche in wedding photography, you should focus on this area. You need to know whether this industry requires specialized wedding photographers or not. You also need to analyze the industry in order to offer value-added services.
14. Prepare a Detailed Cost Analysis
So how much does it actually cost to start a photography business and do things right? What do you really need to start a wedding photography business the right way and start getting real, paying clients through the door right away? Read through this post for that;
- The Total Fee for incorporating the Business in United States of America – $750.
- The budget for Insurance, permits and license – $600.
- The Amount needed to rent a suitable office facility with enough space in the United States of America – $5,000.
- The cost of buying the photography equipment –$10,000.
- The Cost for equipping the office (computers, printers, fax machines, furniture, telephones, filing cabinets, and electronics et al) – $10,000
- The cost of acquiring editing and business software – $2500
- The Cost of Launching an official Website – $700
- Additional Expenditure (Business cards, Signage, Adverts and Promotions et al) – $2,500
- Other miscellaneous – $1,000
Based on this, to start a wedding photography business on different scales: To start up this business on the small scale, which means starting from your room without renting or leasing an office space, you will need around $15, 000
On a middle level start-up, which will incorporate office rent, you will need around $50,000. On a large scale, if you intend competing with the big dogs in the industry, be ready to spend around $70,000.
15. Raise the Needed Startup Capital
Beyond traditional financing, you have a range of options when it comes to raising money. Some suggestions:
Your own resources
Do a thorough inventory of your assets. People generally have more assets than they immediately realize. This could include savings accounts, equity in real estate, retirement accounts, vehicles, recreation equipment, collections and other investments. You may opt to sell assets for cash or use them as collateral for a loan. Take a look, too, at your personal line of credit. Many a successful business has been started with credit cards.
Friends and family
The next logical step after gathering your own resources is to approach friends and relatives who believe in you and want to help you succeed. Be cautious with these arrangements; no matter how close you are, present yourself professionally, put everything in writing, and be sure the individuals you approach can afford to take the risk of investing in your business. Never ask a friend or family member to invest or loan you money they can’t afford to lose.
Using the “strength in numbers” principle, look around for someone who may want to team up with you in your venture. You may choose someone who has financial resources and wants to work side-by-side with you in the business. Or you may find someone who has money to invest but no interest in doing the actual work. Be sure to create a written partnership agreement that clearly defines your respective responsibilities and obligations.
Take advantage of the abundance of local, state and federal programs designed to support small businesses. Make your first stop the U.S. Small Business Administration; then investigate various other programs. Women, minorities and Veterans should check out niche financing possibilities designed to help these groups get into business. The business section of your local library is a good place to begin your research.
16. Choose a Suitable Location for your Business
New photographers often work from home. They may meet clients in their home office or at a local coffee shop but you are advised to rent a small office as soon as possible. Because clients trust you with their money and capturing their special day, having an ultra-professional working environment may be important to some of your clients. And don’t forget privacy. If you have children or other people living with you, clients may see your home as an insecure environment. Finally, having meetings at your home might make your clients feel uncomfortable.
Look for a company that offers office space for rent as needed instead of a traditional lease. Larger cities tend to have places like this. Ask friends who are business owners if they have extra space for rent, and if that fails, look at traditional office space. Single office rentals aren’t as outlandish as you might think. All needed is to convert this to your photo studio where you display your past works on a slide.
17. Hire Employees for your Technical and Manpower Needs
Your manpower requirement as a wedding photography firm depends on the scale at which you operate, if you operate on a small scale, you will only be the one running the business but if you choose to expand and go medium then you will need at least 4 more workers, anything above 4 employees means you are operating on a large scale.
Whichever scale you wish to operate will determine your manpower need and it is important for you to know that the industry is not labor intensive which only need people to man the equipment.
The Service Delivery Process of the Business
As a professional wedding photographer, you are going to need at least 2 professional cameras. Camera malfunctions is a common occurrence which is bound to happen, and you need to have a professional-level backup camera ready to go in the case that something goes wrong. No, a non-professional backup camera is not okay, that’s if you intend doing this right.
The gear you need is going to vary based on if you are a portrait photographer or a wedding photographer. But as a wedding photographer, you have to be prepared to shoot without flash in the worst of conditions and need gear that can handle difficult situations better. The following would be set of equipment needed;
- Cameras: Buy 2 Nikon D750 cameras, body only ($2000 each) as the kit lens is not worth it.
- Lenses: The following variants of lenses; Nikon 35mm f/2.0 ($350), Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Lens ($299) and Nikon 85mm f/1.8 Lens ($499) are needed. In addition, as a wedding photographer, invest in a Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 as this his will help you in very dark situations where you aren’t allowed to be close to the couple, such as in a dark church where you are not allowed to go anywhere except the very back of the church. It cost around $2400.
- Flash: You will need at least 2 flashes for your camera. Nikon SB-700 ($329) each is recommended.
- You will also need other items such as camera bags, memory cards, reflectors, light stands, flash triggers, etc. The need for this will be determined by your photography style. Total Cost: $500-$1500.
- External Hard drives
- Editing Software
18. Write a Marketing Plan Packed with ideas & Strategies
You’ve got your portfolio online and your waiting for your first call or email and nothing. Where do you go from here? Have no fear, Google is here. Without a well-defined marketing plan you will not see many returns from your online portfolio. There are many pitfalls along the way to a good marketing plan including wasted time, money, and increased frustration. It’s taken me a while to figure it out but I’ve learned a lot about how to get the most from Google.
When it comes to marketing, as the new photographer; stay away from print. What this means is that stay away from marketing off of the internet. It has very low returns in the beginning unless you are in a rural area where internet usage is at a minimum. The two primary areas of online marketing are paid for advertising and bum marketing. They work well separately and together. You can use both for your wedding photography business. Both also require good SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
19. Develop Iron-clad Competitive Strategies to Help You Win
Do not expect a rosy start as it will be challenging competing as a new firm in the wedding photography industry especially in a highly organized market like that of the United States of America, which is why you must be deliberate in choosing the perfect niche and specialization to fit into the industry.
As a wedding photographer, with the required expertise, skills and equipment to carry out your functions to your client with respect to meeting up with deadlines, then you are likely not going to struggle to compete in the industry. Hence, ensure that you put in your best whenever you have the opportunity to handle every of your wedding shoots.
You should be known for delivering excellent and efficient services. Lastly, ensure that your organization is well positioned and if possible form strategic partnership with other key stakeholders in the wedding and events industry; it will sure give you competitive advantage over your competitions.
20. Brainstorm Possible Ways to Retain Clients & Customers
There is a reason that corporations spend so much money on figuring out ways to make customers happy, because it’s easier and cheaper to keep a customer than to get a new one. The same goes with the wedding photography business. If you learn how to make your customers happy you’ll get repeat business, referrals, and a better reputation within your community. There is no secret to making your customers happy. Here are some simple things to remember:
- Always deliver what you promise, if you say it will take 2 months to edit their photos it shouldn’t take 2 and a half months
- Be quick about your replies: Wedding Photographers are notorious about not replying to emails and calls, set yourself apart by replying to all inquiries within 24 hours at the max
- Be courteous, friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful before, during, and after the wedding.
- Always keep in your thoughts that this is someone’s special day – When you have edited your 30th wedding and you are looking at your 600th picture in that wedding remember that while this is a job to you, its someone’s wedding day
- Don’t be on time, be early – Being early to meetings, weddings, and events will allow you to prepare yourself for those events. It also has the added benefit of making you look more professional
- Dress appropriately – Black or natural colors are always a good choice for photographers. Dressing business casual for most weddings will be sufficient but always check with the couple if in doubt. Remember, while you should look professional, you should also be comfortable.
21. Develop Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness and Create a Corporate Identity
Here are the platforms we intend making use of to promote and advertise our business;
- Place adverts on national newspapers
- Leverage on the internet and social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook et al
- Attend photography exhibitions and conferences
- Engage in road show from time to time
- Distribute our fliers and handbills to targeted areas from time to time
- Door to door and word of mouth promotions
22. Create a Suppliers/Distribution Network
It is advised that you adopt an aggressive marketing approach because; it is believed that for you to win over clients in the already saturated market, aggressive approach has to be used. Part of your marketing process is to get the contacts (phone numbers or email addresses) of leads, then send them introductory mails or call them to introduce our businesses to them. After a week or thereabout, follow – up with another call or email and try as much as possible to book an appointment to see them.
As a new start-up, you don’t have the financial capacity to hire enough employees that can cover the entire city and beyond; which is why you can engage the services of freelance marketers to help us market your services. They will be paid commissions based on the number of clients and the amount of the tasks done. In nut a shell, explore the following marketing and sales strategies to promote your new business;
- Direct Marketing (Staff)
- Sales Reps
- Online Marketing
- Referral / Network Marketing
- Revenue Sharing Business Partners (Event Planners and Contractors)
23. Tips for Running your Wedding Photography Business Successfully
Here are some of the most commonly mentioned tips according to successful wedding photographers on how to tend your business to success: